Nuclear greenwashing

Global warming has suddenly put nukes back on the agenda — but there's a lot the industry isn't telling you

Patrick Moore's presentation isn't as slick as Al Gore's. The slides he shows lack a certain visual panache and don't compare to the ones in An Inconvenient Truth. Moore himself seems a little frumpy, particularly as he peers out across the audience recently gathered in the Warnors Theatre in Fresno.

But attendees paid $20 to hear the former Greenpeace leader extol the benefits of nuclear energy as a clean, safe, reliable, economic, and — perhaps most important to the current political and media focus on global warming — emissions-free source of power.

It's hard to imagine Moore at the helm of an inflatable boat steering into the line of a whaling ship's fire, but that iconic Greenpeace image is exactly what he wants you to associate with him. The Vancouver, British Columbia, native is quick to tell you he's a former leader of one of the most effective international activist organizations ever. But he said he's older now and wants to be for things instead of against them.

What's Moore for? Warding off the warming of the world. What does he think will do it? More nuclear power plants.

If there's any great and unifying issue thrumming through the national psyche, defying political party lines and flooding the media filters these days, it's global warming. While leaders argue left and right about nearly every issue that comes before them, there is at least consensus that something must be done about climate change.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped on that bandwagon last September when he signed into law Assembly Bill 32, mandating a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

Thirty-one states recently agreed to join a voluntary greenhouse gas emissions registry similar to California's, 10 northeastern states are creating a cap-and-trade market, and already half the country has laws requiring that a certain percentage of local power portfolios come from renewable energy.

The alternative-energy troops who've long been waiting in the trenches have stepped up to fight, armed with the tools they've been honing for years: solar panels, wind turbines, tidal power, and biofuels. They say new options and innovations abound for weaning the country off its fossil fuel habit.

But there are already critics who say those approaches aren't going to be enough — and that we need to go nuclear against this planetary threat. And now they have some unlikely new allies.

Maybe you've seen the headlines touting the new nuclear push, running in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and all the daily syndicates. They all claim the same questionable facts: Nuclear power is clean and emissions free. It's safe, reliable, and cost-effective. It isn't contributing to global warming — and these days even the environmentalists like it.

James Lovelock, the renowned Gaia theorist, thinks nuclear energy will be essential to power the developing world. On a Sept. 13, 2006, airing of KQED's Forum, he told host Michael Krasny, "I would welcome high-level nuclear waste in my backyard."

During the hour-long program he said the dangers of radiation were exaggerated; there wasn't that much waste generated; and in order to mitigate the increasing effects of climate change, we should "look at nuclear as a kind of medicine we have to take."

Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, thinks nothing is more doomsday than global warming and told the Guardian he advised Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to start touting nuclear power as a solution.

"The nuclear industry needs a new green generation," he told us.